Sexual assault is a serious issue on college campuses.
To me, this is the most repeated phrase I hear when discussing sexual assault. I have heard it from my professors, I’ve heard it from the president of my college, I’ve heard it from the provost, staff members, classmates, documentaries, the media, news, my coworkers, politicians, artists – the list goes on.
And it’s true! Sexual violence is a very serious issue on college campuses: it has been researched repeatedly, and laws have been implemented to protect college students. This includes Title IX, which requires universities to remedy and prevent sexual violence, and obligates schools to investigate sexual and gender-based violence. Title IX also requires colleges to establish procedures for handling sexual assault, harassment, and rape accusations.
But despite findings from research, the stories of survivors, and laws that protect students from sexual violence, sexual assault continues to be a massive problem on college campuses. Even after the surge of the #MeToo movement that put sexual assault and survivors at the center of conversations worldwide, academic institutions and lawmakers continue to turn their backs on survivors and protect perpetrators of sexual violence.
And now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed new Title IX regulations that would have dangerous impacts on students and would discourage survivors from coming forward. Rather than making students’ protection a priority, DeVos’ new regulations prioritize schools’ budgets instead, and deny survivors of their legal right to equal access to education, making schools less safe for everyone. Here’s how the proposed regulations would endanger students:
Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment
The proposed regulations defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity”
This definition tells us that the current Department of Education thinks that some level of sexual harassment is acceptable and that we should just deal with it. It also makes it so much easier for colleges and universities to ignore sexual harassment allegations if they don’t see the allegations as so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive. Survivors would be forced to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse before a school would be legally required to act.
Schools can ignore off-campus assault and harassment
Basically, schools aren’t obliged to protect students who live off-campus and individuals who have been sexually assaulted off campus. Schools can also ignore some online harassment. Yet, 41% of all campus sexual assaults occur off-campus.
Limiting the ability of survivors to get help and mandatory cross-examinations
For schools to be required to respond to complaints, students have to report to employees with “the authority to institute corrective measures.” If a student reports to an RA or TA, schools aren’t legally obligated to do anything about it. Survivors are also required to submit to cross-examination by an adversarial party aligned with the survivor’s named harasser or rapist, despite the trauma that could come with the cross-examinations.
Schools could delay investigations indefinitely and can deny survivors a fair process
If a survivor reports to their school and the police, the rule allows schools to delay its investigation while the criminal investigation is pending. Also, schools can single out sexual harassment and assault complaints for different treatment to protect the alleged perpetrators from “stigma.”
The comment period for DeVos’ proposed regulations are currently open until January 28, 2019. Make sure that your voice is heard and help us keep DeVos’ hands off Title IX!
If you’re like me and this is your first time submitting formal comments to a federal agency, don’t worry! What’s most important is that your voice is heard.